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Hello gentle friends, it’s time for that thing where we treat the things people typed into their search engines to find this place as if they are questions in their own right.

As is traditional, we begin with a tune:

 

Then we begin the no-context guessing games and assumptions!

1 “Adult male using baby talk voice.”

If this person is talking to babies, kitties, puppies, or other actual baby cute things, this is extremely okay, let the man babble!

If this person is talking to a fellow adult in a baby voice, and you are that adult, and you presumably don’t enjoy this, my suggestion is to be very direct: “What’s going on with the baby voice? I don’t like it, please stop.”

Bonus: Ask A Manager has advice for how to deal with people using baby voices at work (because of course, someone was using a baby voice at work).

2 “Ex asks ‘are you still angry with me?'”

This one keeps coming up, so here are some discussion questions for whoever needs them.

Are you still angry? What’s the worst thing that happens if you say “yep, still angry”? Did this person ever actually apologize? Why are they bugging you about this, exactly? And why now? And how interested are you in discussing a relationship that you’re not in anymore?

You don’t have to keep working on past relationships, and you’re allowed to find whatever intersection of unfiltered honesty and “ugh, what will get you to go away and stop asking me this” that works for you.

3 “I’m so sorry, but my boyfriend has forbidden me to communicate with you.”

What in the what now?

Please allow me to make the argument that “my boyfriend forbids it” is not a good enough reason to stop communicating with someone you want to be communicating with. If you don’t want to be communicating anymore, that’s a good enough reason on its own, though I do get that sometimes “another dude has priority here” is the only thing that makes a certain kind of annoying dude actually go away.

4 “Quinton just got a promotion at work.”

Congratulations Quinton? Hey everyone, drinks are on Quinton!

5 “How to change a person with disgusting hygiene?”

You were probably looking for this, but in case this was a more general query:

You can’t change other people. You can ask for what you need, you can tell them what you need, you can ask them to take steps to give you what you need, you can break it down in detail like “Please take a shower, brush your teeth often, and wear clean clothes on days you know you’re going to see me,” you can inquire if there is something preventing them doing this and see if it’s something you can help with, you can teach kids to do this stuff if you’re a parent, but ultimately it’s up to them. You can care about people, you can’t do their caring instead of them.

6 “My neighbor wants to be friends, but she makes me uncomfortable, what to do.”

It never feels great to have this conversation, but when someone is trying really hard to be part of your life and your desires around that are mismatched, sometimes you have to balance whether it’s kinder to avoid/dodge/fade on them them and hope they eventually get the hint or whether it’s kinder to speak up with something like “You’re a good neighbor, and I can tell you’re trying hard to be a good friend to me, but I don’t want to [spend more time together][join your book club][connect on social media][buy your kids’ school fundraising crap][help you with your cat rescuel][be friends]. I know this is awkward, and I’m so sorry, but can we just go back to being friendly acquaintances, and I’ll see you around the ‘hood when I see you? Thank you for understanding,” and then move on with your life.

There’s no blanket answer for this kind of thing or guarantee that any of it will go smoothly, some people take direct rejection well, some people eventually get hints, some really don’t do well with either direct refusals or the soft no, reasons work on reasonable people and give unreasonable people something to try to fix or argue with. People often claim they “just want to know why” or “just tell me!” but so often, like every sentence with the word “just” in the middle of it, those things don’t necessarily make anybody feel better.

I’ve had to be the person who gives the “Hey, this is the tenth thing you’ve invited me to, and that’s so kind but I know I’m probably never going to make it, it’s okay to just stop asking!” talk and the one who realizes after far too many times that what seemed like a sincere offer to “totally hang out sometime!” meant never, the “sometime” was actually “never.” It’s confusing and weird because human connection is confusing and weird, nobody wants to be the Bad Guy or find out they were being  a nuisance. Anyway, sometimes what’s kindest is being kind to yourself and setting the boundary where you need it to be. If you’re sure you don’t want to be friends with a person who “makes you uncomfortable,” don’t be! You do get to decide who you invite into your life.

7 “What to do with a boyfriend that is trying to protect you but constantly lectures you.”

Tell him “If you don’t stop acting like Professor Dad, I’m going to dump you. No more lectures!” 

When he starts lecturing, leave the room! Go home!

Or skip straight to the breaking up part.

There is a short story by Claire Humphrey about the fallacy that protecting someone means controlling them, with a content note for mentions of domestic abuse and serial killer stuff. I constantly think about adapting this story into a film.

8 “Asking a coworker to go on vacation.”

Okay but…why?

Like, do you mean, asking them to take a vacation: “Fergus, you’ve got a lot of vacation days saved up, time to take a break, buddy!”

Or asking them to go on vacation…with you? But…why? You didn’t use the word “friend,” and vacation time is AWAY FROM WORK time, so…I would start smaller if you want to become better friends with this person. Lunch. Coffee. After-work drinks. Small hangs outside the office before disappearing to a destination. 

If you meant asking a coworker if you could tag along on THEIR vacation, that’s a hard no from me.  You either have the kind of friendship where they invited you already or you should let them goooooo. Speaking of which, I never press for updates, but I would dearly love to know what happened with all of this if possible.

9 “Friend gets mad if I don’t invite them to every outing.”

Here’s a possible script:

“Friend, sometimes I want to see you, and sometimes I want to do things alone or with other people. I need you to accept.”

If you set a boundary and someone gets mad, let them be mad, you’re not doing anything wrong, punishing you around something like this is so controlling and not okay.

10 “Asking out a former student.”

COME THE FUCK ON.

Leave your students alone. Do not treat your students – including your former students – like your personal dating pool, ever. And definitely don’t come to me to be validated about that. No.

Discussion Note: Everyone can keep their anecdotes about the one time this really worked out happily for somebody somewhere to themselves. Sometimes if you’re a happy exception to a rule, your happiness has to be enough for you. It’s not evidence in an argument to move where the rule goes, especially given how often people who flout this rule are abusing their power, and how rarely even the worst offenders are held accountable for that.

11 “What can I do about a neighbour that calls me a pervert and tells me to stay away from his kids.”

YIKES.

Some possibilities:

  • You’re being targeted by bigots. Are you some variety of queer and your neighbors are big ol’ homophobes, by chance? Or are you neurodivergent in some way and your neighbors are being ableist bullies? Sadly not unheard of, and the query has the ring of that going on.
  • There’s some other neighbor hostility thing going on (lawn care, parking, trash bins, noise complaints, they leave their dog out in all weather and you called animal control on them, or, your dog constantly poops in their yard, idk what it is, but if you think about it you probably do) and it’s escalated to nuclear levels with this kind of accusation,
  • You’re doing something creepy that is making your neighbor reasonably concerned about your behavior (if this is the case you almost certainly know what it is, so, stop it and get some help please).

Mentally I’m moving forward with “the neighbors are the problem here and the person searching for this is not the bad guy” scenario, here are some possible smart moves that don’t actually depend on knowing exactly what’s happening.

Mandatory: Have zero further interaction with these neighbors, especially the kids. Leave them be. There’s not one thing you could say to anyone in that house that would de-escalate such a risky and high-stakes situation. Don’t apologize, explain, clarify. Don’t even wave to them. Give them no ammunition. If one of the kids kicks a ball into your yard, the parents can come get it or it can rot there, not your problem.

This is incredibly not fair especially if you’ve done nothing wrong, but sometimes protecting yourself means disengaging and de-escalating from people who are bad for you. Plus being able to truthfully say “Once they made it clear how they felt about me, I never contacted them again” can be a shield down the road if things get even worse.

Additional Possible Steps: 

Document your interactions with these neighbors. This can be brief: Dates, times, who was there, what happened, what was said. When did this start? Was there some kind of inciting incident? Is this really about something else? If this thing escalates you’ll want this record. Screencap any texts, emails, or messages you’ve exchanged, the NextDoor thread where it all went awry, anything that shows the history of the relationship with these people.

Tell people close to you what’s going on. This is an incredibly stressful situation, right? Again, through the frame of “the neighbors are the problem,” if you’re being harassed by a bigot or bully to this degree, what else might these people do?

This whole kind of thing thrives on secrecy and shame, so telling people ‘Look, my horrible neighbors accused me of some gross stuff and it’s incredibly humiliating and scary but I don’t want it to be a secret ’cause I need your help and support, especially if this all escalates,’ is one way to fight back. Make your friends aware of the situation and the history with these neighbors. Lean on people: Counselors, community, friends, family.

Heck, if you’re friendly with other neighbors, make the ones you trust at least basically aware of the situation – “Just so you know, I’ve been having a strange conflict with ______, they called me _______, I’m trying to give them a wide berth and hoping it all dies down, but if you hear some weird stuff, that’s why.” The rumor mill is gonna do what it’s gonna do anyway, if you’ve done nothing wrong you don’t have to flee or hide from it.

I’ve been watching a lot of Killing Eve lately and one thing I’ve noticed about Eve’s character is that, for a supposedly bright and perceptive lady, she is EXTREMELY BAD at informing people around her about necessary information and DANGEROUSLY OVERCONFIDENT in her ability to handle situations by herself. “I just don’t want to burden anyone else with my secret problems” is TV logic, the kind that creates plots like “I have a mutual crush on a terrifying assassin, how can this all be as dangerous and messy as possible?” vs. helpful real-life logic, which is what you need. Resist the impulse to hide and keep this all secret with everything you’ve got.

Tighten up your privacy and security. This is where you Google yourself from a private browsing window and think about the truly awful question, “How could an extremely hostile person who knows where I live possibly use this information against me?” This is where you lock your social feeds down, this is where possibly you quickly search for your neighbor’s social profiles (adults only, probably do not search for their children by name under any circumstances) and specifically block those people from accessing any of your feeds (Facebook, etc.) This sucks so bad and it’s completely unfair but it’s the smart thing to do so I’m telling you about it. Also consider blocking/locking out any mutuals you share if those people are not completely trustworthy.

This is also where you think about physical security and safety. Doors. Locks. Gates. Pets (don’t let your pets go where these people can have access to them). Cars. Packages. Lights. Motion-sensors. Window blinds/drapes/shades. Routines. Who has keys? Maybe nobody but you should have keys for now.

If this escalates at all, seek expert legal advice where you live. If your neighbor is unfairly harassing you with accusations like this, and you sense they might escalate things, get an expert, tell them everything that’s been going on, and let them help you. A lawyer can talk you through scenarios like, well what happens if they involve law enforcement or try to get you fired at work or do other harassing things? Trust your gut if you think these are people who will never let a grudge go or have a pattern of escalating conflicts.

Keep living your life. I’m hoping that as horrible as this is it was a passing, “Classic Unoriginal Rote Bigotry” sort of remark and not something more specifically and violently targeted, but who the hell even knows right now. (Holy crap is that a depressing collection of words.) This got pretty long for a drive-by query but I’d rather see someone take something like this very seriously and implement some filters and precautions and not need them if the alternative is leaving themselves open to more harassment and danger.

Moderation Note: We’re not Internet Detectives and can’t possibly solve this situation for what’s actually happening or give people legal advice in absentia. If you’ve been the target of something like this from bigoted/homophobic neighbors in the past and have practical tips to share, that would be useful. I’d ask people to not try to exhaustively detail all the possibilities.

12 “How to invite yourself to stay at someone’s house out of state.”

This is one of those areas where, either you know that you have that kind of relationship with the person, where “I’m coming to your area on [dates], is there any chance I can take advantage of your guest room or sofa for a few days?” is a perfectly appropriate question and everybody knows that “nope, sorry, that won’t work” is a perfectly appropriate answer or you don’t.

The wording of the request matters less than the strength and nature of the relationship. “Mind if I crash at your place during [week]?” vs. “Is your guest room open to visitors next month” vs. “Will trade some free babysitting and chef skills for space on your basement sectional” vs. “Hey Grandpa do you still keep the key to the lake house in the mouth of the fish? Mind if I head up that way this weekend?” matters less than whether you feel comfortable asking this person about this in the first place. Ask or don’t, consider also that you won’t lose anything by making a plan B for if they say “no.”

13 “How to handle jealous husband as female musician.” 

How stressful! Possible script if this were a scene in a movie:

“Dude, being a performer means that sometimes I get attention from people who want to flirt or who have crushes on me. I try to have good boundaries about that and be friendly without encouraging people or crossing any lines, but engaging with fans, even really enthusiastic ones, is part of the job and it’s not going away. Their feelings about me are not my fault or my problem to manage, nor are they something I need to apologize to you about or account for. And yeah, sometimes I’m going to wear ‘sexy’ outfits on stage or for photo shoots. It’s part of the brand, plus I like wearing them.

You knew what this was when we got together, I’ve never cheated on you and I don’t plan to change that, but it’s time for you to accept me and my job. You either trust me not to cheat on you or you don’t. If you trust me, stop [describe the behaviors – hovering/accusing me of cheating/being a jerk to my bandmates/being a giant hostile weirdo about it]. If you don’t trust me, we should think seriously about ending our marriage. I’ll hate to lose you but I can’t keep living with you being so mean and suspicious all the time. I’m not submitting to surveillance or constant checkups or soothing your feelings every time another dude looks my way.

Please think about it, talk it over with friends/a therapist/people you trust and tell me what you want to do. Just know that I’m not having this fight with you ever again. We have to put this to rest.”

Jealousy happens, not always rational, not always controllable. It’s the behaviors and reactions to that jealousy that are under our control, and it’s okay to ask people to get those under control if the alternative is living your life around their unfounded fears!

14 “I hate last-minute invitations.”

Don’t accept them. In the moment you can say “That sounds awesome, but I can’t join you. If you give me a little more notice next time, I’ll see what I can do. Have fun!” 

Tell people who are close to you who you hang out with a lot what’s up: “Hey, I’m a planner and I like to schedule things in advance/I need a lot of notice so I can get the night off from work/find a babysitter/budget my introvert energies/get a ride/set aside enough $, so I can’t always say yes to last-minute invites even when I’d like to see you. Thanks!” 

15 “I dreamt my ex invited me and his ex girlfriend in his house and had sex with us at different intervals what does it mean.”

Are you joking? Your true destiny has been revealed! Call them at once!

Or, just possibly, your brain’s hard drive was sorting through some old footage the other night and decided to show your sleeping self a movie that would push a couple of buttons real hard (maybe the ones marked “horniness” and “emotional stuff”?) and the dream isn’t necessarily meaningful in itself.

I never want to say that dreams aren’t important. I am a meticulous, vivid, immersive dreamer and I often remember my dreams upon waking. I can tell I’m anxious about something when I spend my nights waiting tables in a restaurant where suddenly I’m the only one working and a bus full of old people has just pulled up and I can’t stop until every one of them is satisfied, or I’m taking the final exam for a class I never signed up for but am unable to drop, or worse I’m TEACHING a class where I am totally unprepared and have no idea what the topic even is but the room is full of students looking expectantly at me and there is something on the white board that might help but try as I might I can’t read what it says. I have had recurring bad dreams about seemingly innocuous people from my life who turned out to be unsafe down the road enough times that I know to pay attention or at least ask why a person is suddenly showing up in my brain as the Devil. Those I’ve loved and lost visit me in dreams all the time, sometimes it’s Beadie, full of purrs and intense stares, and my childhood pets show up too, and we all walk together through a vast forest. Sometimes it’s my Grandma, red-nosed from drinking her single glass of rosé, destroying me at Rummy. And yup, sometimes I’m back in one of those situations, pressed close against some hot and confusing person in an encounter that I thought I’d deleted from the directory long ago but I clearly didn’t empty the Trash folder since my dream brain’s impressions are shockingly faithful to actual events.

My dreaming self isn’t the boss of me, she’s more of an observer, so if I happen to carry a strong memory of the night’s jumble of images forward into the day I always find it interesting but not necessarily instructive, in a “data isn’t the same thing as information” sense.

What do you think this dream means, if anything, and where is it pointing you in terms of what you need and desire? That’s probably what it means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a psychotherapist, and a friendly colleague who is also a psychotherapist said she would like me to take a room in a three-room office she was acquiring. This plan didn’t work out because the sale fell through. She then bought a two-room office and the idea, always an idea in consideration not a formal offer, was that I and another colleague of hers might share the second office. (I never ever asked after or pushed for any of this.) I considered this a viable-if-not-sure plan and accordingly waited many months for sales to go through etc.,while adjusting my practice because this office was in another part of the city (basically not marketing in my area and gearing up for a change). It reached the point that we all met, discussed final furnishings and hours in the room and rental fees, and I and the other colleague stated we were happy to go forward.

Two days later my ‘friendly colleague’ told me that she was separating from her husband and needed the space to herself, that she had felt very ill over sharing it, that she was sorry. She then pressed me to meet her for a coffee. We met, I asked how the other party had taken the news, and she told me that the other person would be using the room as she had made a promise to her. Never in any of this was the disparity in promise level shared with me. ‘Friendly colleague’ (!) then pressed me for an ongoing time we could meet up as friends. I don’t wanna! Thoughts? Am I being a bad sport?, or is it a sensible decision to cut my losses with this colleague and how to say so if pressed?

Read More

:Captain Awkward Opens Mailbox:

:Captain Awkward Stares At Mailbox:

CONGRATULATIONS, ALL YOU BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE GETTING MARRIED SOON.

Let’s talk about some stuff I know about weddings. This is probably my one wedding-related post for at least the remainder of 2019. I’m going to try to hit all the bases I know how to help with. If you don’t see your concern addressed, comments are open.

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your family.

Your wedding invitation list does not exist as a communication device to convey exactly who you like best and how much you like (or don’t like) someone in your family or social circle. You can leave the homophobes, Nazis, and child molesters off the guest list and you don’t have to explain yourself. Here are scripts for anyone who wants to pressure you about this:

  • “Eh, we’re not that close.”
  • He knows why.” (CN: childhood sexual abuse)
  • “But he’s a Nazi. It’s not that complicated.”
  • “Everyone will live if this one person is not at one party.”
  • “[Relative] and I do have a problem, and that’s our business. It’s not your problem to solve, so please stop trying. If you keep pressuring me about this, my problem is going to be with you. Surely you don’t want that, so let’s change the subject.”
  • “You’re going to have to drop this topic, forever.”

My general recommendation is “Invite someone or don’t, avoid half-measures,” “I want to invite X but also control and head off everything about how they behave that day” or “I want to invite X on the condition that we work out everything that is fraught and stressful between us during wedding planning, a fraught and stressful process in itself” is a setup for stress and failure. If this person sucks and makes you uncomfortable? You can not invite them. If the stress of not inviting them is greater than the stress of just giving in, consider that you can invite them and plan to give them a wide berth. There will other guests, brides & grooms are in demand, maybe don’t think of it as “Many hours trapped with this difficult person and our unresolved issues,” think of it as “I’ll spend a quick few minutes of  accepting congratulations from someone I don’t like so much before I get distracted with someone else.” People say weddings are a blur and they are right, it’s actually a challenge to slow down and pay attention to every single person, so let the blur work for you! But it’s my strong opinion that half-measures are doomed.

This is because you can’t change people or fix them. People in your family who annoy you will go right on annoying you on and after your wedding day. You can sometimes create buffers against jerks but you can’t control them, and the things that are fucked up in your family will still be messy at your wedding. Sometimes people can rally and behave themselves for one photo op, I hope that’s the case, sometimes people can surprise you with how decent and loving they can be even if things are messy in the relationship, but if they don’t, nobody at your wedding will blame you. Your guests just want to be happy for you and with you, everyone’s related to at least one total asshole, one story-topper, one person who laughs at their own jokes, one person who can’t hold their liquor. Your guests know the deal and they don’t expect you or anyone else to be perfect!

Your wedding (esp. your wedding party, if you have one) doesn’t exist to fix your friendships, either.

People can be great friends and shit bridesmen and groomsmaids. What is it that you want your wedding party to do? Who in your life that you love is best set up to do what you need them to do? Do you need a wedding party at all? It’s possible that charming, loyal, delightful friend who would give you a kidney but can’t be trusted not to kill a succulent in their care is not the one you want as your logistical XO for a complicated affair, but maybe you want them around anyway for Dionysian hilarity. Set people up to succeed.

“Be in my wedding party?” is an invitation, not a command. So be respectful and up front about budget & time commitments. Let “So sorry, I can’t, but I’d love to celebrate as a guest!” be a good, happy, loving answer when it is the honest answer. Also, don’t expect people to read your mind if there’s something you want them to do, you might have a playbook in mind but it’s far from universal, so spell it out! Help people make a good decision, help people give you what you want and need.

Friends/Family of engaged people: You’re allowed to answer “Will you be in my wedding?” with “Theoretically I’d love to but can you spell out what that looks like for you so I can make sure I can follow through?” before committing. You can say no and you can resign from being in a wedding party. Will it affect your relationship with the person who asked you? Probably? Yes? You still don’t have to go broke or tie yourself in knots to meet impossible tasks. This is one of those times to check in with yourself and give an enthusiastic, committed, excited YES or a NOPE, SORRY. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between or make it a constant negotiation.

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your (or anyone else’s) body.

You are lovable and beautiful at the weight you are now and with the personal style you have now. You can obviously use your wedding attire to experiment and play with different looks – ROCK ON, FANTASY GOTH UNICORN PIRATE QUEENS OF THE WORLD – but you do not have to become a different person to take up the space marked “bride” or “groom.” “I don’t plan on losing any weight” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say to people who expect you to starve and sculpt and spray and disguise your body.

For people nervous about being photographed and looked at in a way they aren’t usually, one thing that helped me was taking lots of selfies and having friends take lots of casual photos of me in the months before my wedding, so the whole act of photography was normalized, and my view of my body and face was normalized for me. I also talked to my photographer about this, telling him “I get anxious with a lot of posed photos, can we knock those out and then you can shoot documentary style so I don’t have to stop and worry about it”‘ and he was like “YES” and it worked out great. Be kind to yourself and your body, ok?

Be kind to other people about their bodies, too. “I want you to be in my wedding, but only if you change your weight, get rid of your piercings and tattoos, and modify everything about your face and body so you look more like the other people” = a crappy invitation! Either work WITH your most punk rock friend to find something that they can flaunt as they are, or ask someone else to pose beside you in photos. 

“I want you to be in/at my wedding, but only if you cover up how queer/trans you are” is an abomination. Do not do this. YOUR SHITTY OLD RELATIVES WILL FUCKING DEAL, they can tamp down their prejudices for one day, and if they can’t, they should be disinvited. Like, if the mere reminder that queer people exist is upsetting enough to kill Grandma, I gotta consider that it was just her time to go.

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your romantic relationship with your intended spouse.

Problems and doubts that exist before you get married will exist after you get married. They don’t just solve themselves, you have to solve them, together, you have to trust this person to solve them with you in a transparent way. Nobody gets magically better in bed, better at money, better at household chores, better at communication b/c a wedding ceremony happened. “I do all the household chores now, but after we get married it will naturally become 50/50” is 100% magical thinking. People change slow if they change at all, they almost never do it for you or another person. If your church or officiant has some kind of premarital counseling, take advantage of it. If not, bring on a couple’s counselor. Work this stuff out now, while everyone is hopeful and invested.

Wedding planning can be an interesting crucible to see how you execute complicated things as a team. If you’re arguing a lot about party planning details, if your intended spouse cannot be trusted to handle wedding planning tasks without tons of input and work from you or if they won’t let you take charge without micromanaging? ABORT & REGROUP. I’m not talking about joint discussion and budget and planning to make sure you’re on the same page, I’m not even talking about never arguing (Is rice a grain or a seed?), I’m talking about a situation where you end up having to check on a fellow adult and do all the work yourself and you’re constantly bummed out because the person who is supposed to be on your team is the one adding stress to your life. Either you need practice letting go of control or your spouse needs to show more ability and follow-through or y’all need more clarity between you, either way, figure this out before you legally combine all your money and your stuff with this person.

If you can’t be a united front about wedding planning stress, postpone the party, seek counseling, work out the issues between you. You need that person to be on your side and they need to be on yours. You need to trust them and they need to trust you. If you don’t have that, abort!

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix everyone’s feelings.

Planning a wedding means making decisions. Not every decision is going to make every person in your life happy. You have to decide anyway.

There is literally no guaranteed way to deliver news that someone doesn’t want to hear “without offending them,” “without hurting their feelings,” “without making it awkward,” “without upsetting them.”

There is no script, there is no font, there is no “I’m fat and gay and poor and also I don’t like your church or your country club or Grandma’s veil so we’re taking this whole wedding thing in a totally different direction from the one you imagined your child would follow someday, but I’m so happy and I hope you can be happy for me, and if you can’t, keep it to yourself ’cause this is the plan anyway even if you don’t like it!” singing telegram that can control how someone will feel about or react to news they don’t want to hear. It doesn’t exist. I can suggest wording for scripts, I can cheerlead you, but I can’t make your relatives feel a certain way about your decisions or make the especially difficult ones behave themselves this one time. It’s out of my hands the same way it’s out of yours. Other people are gonna say, do, feel what they’re gonna do. Your job isn’t to manage that, it’s to act with integrity, make decisions, and communicate those decisions with integrity and let the rest be what it is.

If you say “no” as politely as you can or make some other decision and someone has feelings about it, but you know that you’ve made the right decision for you, it’s time to stop trying to anticipate or manage or soothe their feelings away. People get to feel their feelings. They don’t get to be assholes to you. You get to set boundaries about how much you want to or can absorb their feelings. You get to tell people “Ok but this is what we decided,” use the “Sorry you feel that way, I know that this is what’s right for me, you’re very loved and important to me so I hope you’ll be able to celebrate with us on the day” non-apology and then put the thing to bed. 

Consider that people who use your happy life events as an excuse to pressure, berate, blame, or try to control you or otherwise unload a bunch of negative feelings in your direction are marking themselves out as people who deserve minimal information and can expect to forgo any expectation they might have had of reasonable discussion. These people get put on an information diet, they get an invitation in the mail (if they get invited at all), they get a blanket “Oh, thanks for the input but we already decided that,” they get no more discussions of decisions that are in process, only communication of decisions that have been made jointly by you and your future spouse.

Invitations aren’t commands and traditions are not commandments. 

Invitations aren’t commands. At a certain point, someone’s attendance or non-attendance is more about “do I gotta rent u a chair or no” than it is about anything else. People have their own reasons for not being able to travel or show up. Try to celebrate with the people who can make it, the ones who did make it. It’s okay to be very sad if someone won’t join you, but to me, that’s an invitation to connect with them in other ways and make sure they know you’re important to them and that you love them in long-term ways over time (and vice versa), not a time to exert pressure. I’ve missed my share of weddings b/c it was “awesome party vs. rent/food/health.” My good relationships stayed good, even when I missed the celebrations. The ones that apparently demanded choosing unaffordable travel over my own well-being have drifted, and I don’t think that being one of many faces in the crowd on a certain day was the thing that made the difference. If it did? We’re going to have to live with that. I still made the right decision for me.

If someone elopes, trust that they had their reasons. Are you happy for them? Then be happy for them knowing that you’ve got the next 60+ years to be happy for them. You weren’t Left Out of anything, it wasn’t about you.

Traditions – which I recently saw defined as “peer pressure from dead people” – can be beautiful and important but they aren’t everything. They can be remixed and adopted selectively in a way that works for you. Nobody has to walk anyone down an aisle. Consider that anyone who tries to pressure you (“But you have to have _________ kind of food/drink/tchotchkes/toast/dance/bouquet toss/level of fanciness/a white poofy dress/church ceremony/decoration”) is free to have exactly what they like at their own, personal wedding. Their fantasies about what weddings are supposed to be like are not binding rules for you. If traditions are stressing you out and causing a lot of arguments, “Why are we even doing [tradition]” is a great question. Maybe it’s time to list out all the traditions in the families of both spouses, and opt into them one-by-one as it suits you instead of accepting a template.

You’re also allowed to enthusiastically embrace what’s traditional, there is no need to reinvent everything with the right amount of Pinteresting “authenticity.” “Parents/grandparents, I have no idea what I’m doing, what is the usual thing our family does about weddings, lay it on me!” can be a relief. Probably nobody is immune from the pressures of tradition, family dynamics, marketing or the Wedding Industrial Complex, you don’t have to make everything a life-or-death negotiation with The System to show how original you are. Templates can be incredibly useful!

If you are a lady-person marrying a man-person, people will expect you to have tons of opinions, fantasies, and be doing all the work. They will project all kinds of cultural bullshit onto you, and you probably can’t escape the maelstrom entirely, but you don’t have to accept it. The phrases “Oh, thanks for the suggestion, I’ll run it by my partner in case they have something specific in mind,” and “Ask partner, they are handling the food & music” can be a godsend. Also, YMMV, but sometimes reminding myself that planning a single party was not the sole creative act of my adult life and that said party did not have to communicate Who I Am Both As A Bride And A Woman, Plus Honor Everything About Two Families Including Honored Traditions And Exact Markers of Social Class, Especially Considering That I Create Other Stuff And My Chosen Medium For Expressing My Creative Vision Is Generally Not Napkin Colors was a healthy perspective-resetter.

Weddings cost money. How much & what you spend it on is up to you.

Even if you elope, the license and ceremony still cost some money. If you want to have other people there, you gotta budget, since throwing a celebration that is comfortable and enjoyable for guests costs at least some money. “We’re going to the courthouse and then for brunch after” = you still gotta think about stuff like accessible bathrooms, climate control, comfortable seating, all that stuff.

It’s okay to want a big fancy party, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly or you’re breaking Feminism or whatever. It’s also okay to want to be rustic and keep it simple, but consider truthfully whether your frail elderly relatives want to go camping in the woods with you. I reject shaming on both ends of the frugality spectrum, the “How dare you not have an ice sculpture on a yacht named after the diamond mine your grandparents left you” crowd and the “Well, I wove my own wedding dress out of cobwebs and gasoline-soaked rags I picked out of the trash over a series of months, unlike all the shallow, basic people who spent more than $3.50 on their crass, inauthentic parties which could never match my unique and perfect love” crowd are equally irritating in my opinion. Especially since the “Our relatives made manicotti and we chilled in the back yard with some beer and soft drinks” weddings and “There was a swank catered affair at a historic site, everyone looked amazing!” weddings I’ve been to all run together as “awesome weddings where people I love married someone they loved and we celebrated!” in hindsight.

Don’t let anybody shame you about doing what you can afford and what will make you happy or set you up to compete about this, okay? I know I’m more in the “it’s one party, not your whole relationship or life” camp, but it is an important occasion if it’s important to you, please don’t let anyone shame you about caring about a big deal event in your life. Especially given the sexist double-bind of “You must execute this perfectly, female human” and “You’re a selfish trivial asshole for caring about a thing your entire culture is pressuring you to execute perfectly” is a real one. I want to empower people to push back against expectations like this and outright evade them, but I’m not going to pretend that they don’t exist or that they didn’t affect me.

It’s great when families offer to pay for weddings, it can be such a lovely, generous gift, as long as you know that money with strings attached – money that is dangled as an excuse to control and abuse you – is very expensive money. You know best if this is the kind of money your family usually offers you, chances are if it’s how they’ve offered money in every other circumstance before, your wedding isn’t going to change that. You’re allowed to accept the money and still do what you want with your wedding, you’re allowed to negotiate compromises as you can, please consider how important “Big Dream Wedding” vs. “Thanks But No Thanks, I’ll Handle It Myself” is to you. Giving an abuser the power of the purse is going to take a toll on you. Is it worth it? 

Wrap-Up Recommendations

Vendors who work on weddings professionally can roll with dysfunction, they do it all the time. Coordinators, planners, and photographers can be buffers, they know all about directives like “Spouse’s parents divorced, so while we want one or two shots of both parents + newlyweds, you should also photograph them separately.”  Ooh, also, it’s easier to take a few giant group shots that include some of your not-so-favorite relatives or your sibling’s shitty date that you hope to never see again and dispatch them to the bar or buffet while you whittle things down to smaller, specific groupings than it is to constantly be like “you, you, NOT you.” Be strategic, let any pros you’ve hired help you, they’ve heard it alllllllllllllllllllllll before.

If you have questions about specific wedding etiquette or traditions beyond “Be nice to people and don’t try to manage everyone’s feelings,” good news! Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding were great resources for me, a person who had no idea what I was doing and who was not rich or particularly attached to traditional weddings. If you don’t know about them, now you do. 

Comments are open, bring us your wedding grievances, bring us your wedding sanity-savers, bring us your tales of things you worried about that went just fine in the end, bring us your disasters – planned & unplanned – and how you handled it all. If you sent me a recent wedding question and do not see anything here that answers your specific issue, these comments are open for you to get some peer support, too!

Now, before we go, say it with me, all together:

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix you, your intended spouse, your relationship, other people’s feelings, your body or anyone else’s bodies, your entire relationship with money, capitalism or the concept of parties, your friends, or your family.

You can have a great day with imperfect people at an imperfect celebration where compromises and mistakes were made, and still have all the love and happiness in the world in your married life. Marrying a great person surrounded by loving people at an awesome party is pretty fucking great, not gonna lie, but I hope there are many more happy days, lots of kinds of happiness in store for all of us, including all the Awkward Future Spouses in Awkwardland.

Moderation Reminder: Please review the site policies if you’re new or if it’s been a while, and keep comments constructive, kind, briefer than the entire blog post, and on-topic. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out since it comes up every time we talk about weddings, there is nothing quite like a person who goes out of their way to type “I don’t see what all the fuss about weddings is about” in a comment field on a thread about weddings to make their unique and special brand of nonchalance stand out, especially when there are so many things on the internet to performatively not care about! Don’t spend all your Not Caring on us, kind stranger! Maybe someone out there is discussing their favorite TV shows and they need to know that you don’t even have a TV, or you can chime in with the full details of exactly how much you hate a book you’ve never read when someone is pleasantly discussing it with people who have. :-p ❤ ❤ Kisses!

Edited To Add:

  • Commenters, you’re knocking it out of the park today.
  • I can’t believe there was no “Weddings” category on the site before, but I’ve made one and done my best to add old posts to it to help with searching for more specific dilemmas.
  • Here’s a link to the “brochure”-style program Mr. Awkward and I made for our wedding, which we folded in thirds and put on chairs inside mugs our friend acquired from thrift stores. Yay for free clip art! Yay for telling people how things are going to be so they know when they’ll get fed and when it’s time to go home!
  • Here’s us in the middle of getting married & right after, fat, happy, and surrounded by the best people. Click to embiggen.

 

 

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Continued from the previous post to give me more time to think and help you rest your scrolling fingers. Click below the jump for: Not automatically taking on new volunteer responsibilities when others pile them on, talking to kids about fatphobia and disordered eating, supporting a friend with an alcohol addiction, and bouncing back when you fail at what other people think is your dream job by finding a better way to tell the story.

Additional content note: I mention pet death (RIP Beadie) in the last answer, because she’s part of my story about leaving a job.

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Welcome to the re-activation/remixing of “Short Answer Fridays,” where patrons of the site have first dibs for getting short questions answered. I broke it up into two parts, I’ll post the rest this weekend.

Q1 Scripts for when my mom talks about how she looks like a slob, or how she is such a lazy wretch because her house is a wreck (spoiler, it looks a million times better than mine). Or should I just grit my teeth and let it go, always an option. Love your work. Thank you for doing it. (she/her/hers)

I am allergic to self-deprecation in others (my own is another story), I strongly dislike the bonding ritual of putting yourself down as a gambit to get the other person to try to convince you that you’re great, and one way I deal with all of it is to playfully agree with the person. So I would go with “Ha mom, you’re right, what a dump!” or “Sure mom, you’re a slob, everybody knows!” 

I keep my tone light, I laugh, I change the subject as soon as I can because I don’t want to give it a ton of attention, the message is “I’m not playing this game with you.” I think these conversations are more between the other person and themselves than anything to do with me, so who am I to take a side?

Other people have luck with “Stop saying mean stuff about my mom you big jerk!” or sincere talks like “Why don’t we try saying only nice things about ourselves for a change” or “If you’d like some compliments or reassurance you can just ask, you know.”

Or there’s always Mr. Awkward, who’s 95-year-old friend often grouses about looking old and Mr. Awkward answers, deadpan, “Well, good news, Scoop, you don’t look a day over 96.” 

More questions after the jump.

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Hi Captain!

Low stakes question here regarding the delicate situation of my housemates’ generally lovely parents. I live in a house with several people, including a couple with two kids who are also my landlords (the couple, not the kids). I’ve been here for five years and I love it! The situation is wonderful, the dynamic is relaxed and positive, and we’re all on the same page re: cleaning, respect, visitors, whatever. The couple (I’ll call them Fred and Joe) will sometimes invite Joe’s parents to stay and look after the kids while they go on vacation, a situation which we are all generally fine with.

However, I am becoming increasingly annoyed that Joe’s parents completely take over the house when they are here. For example:

1) Joe’s mother has a predilection for cleaning, rearranging and reorganizing the house. I’ll come home to find dishes reorganized, things put in different places, etc. I realize she is trying to be helpful, and I don’t mind (and am in fact grateful) for the fridge to be cleaned or the shelves dusted, but I find it annoying to open a closet and find things completely reordered. It’s my stuff too, not just Joe’s — though I have to say, even if it were just me, and MY mother came and reorganized things without asking, we would have words!

2) Things get loud, especially in the mornings. Loud talking, Facetiming, playing with the kids (it’s a big house and usually Fred and Joe move the kids away from the bedrooms in the mornings so others can sleep), etc. I work late and have a night-owl schedule. I have a white noise machine and ear plugs, but last night the noise in the morning was loud enough that I woke early anyway. I addressed this once and it briefly improved things, but time passes and maybe they forget…?

3) They don’t seem to realize that I am an actual member of the household and not a guest of their son. For example, I left a note out to inform everyone that my friend was coming to stay for a few days. They insisted that I call Fred and Joe to ask permission. I believe Joe’s father’s exact words were, “Please text Joe — it’s not my house, so I can’t say yes or no.” Captain, I’m a grown woman who pays rent, utilities, and groceries at a home I’ve lived in for years. I realize not everyone can be privy to a group dynamic of which they aren’t a member, but is it weird that I find it deeply insulting that they, who are themselves guests in the place where I live, are treating me like a child? Am I being oversensitive here?

I’d like to find a way to preemptively deal with these things, either internally for myself or externally with Fred, Joe, my other housemate, and Joe’s parents, without causing friction for anyone. Joe’s parents are actually really nice people, and I’d like to have a cordial relationship with them. I also don’t want to jeopardize the dynamic of the house. What do I do? Do I just put up with this because they are only here a few times a year (though it is usually for a week or more)? Do I say something? If so, to whom, and how? What do I do preemptively and/or in the moment? If they were my parents it would be one thing, but they aren’t. I realize this is low stakes, and maybe I should just deal and try not to be around much, but it feels shitty to be made to feel this way in my home, however well-meaning they are.

Thanks, Captain! Love your site and look forward to your take.

Signed,
The dog treats are on the low shelf for a reason kthx
(she/her)

P.S. As of the time I’m writing this, Joe’s mother has moved the Tupperware to the place SHE wants it for the SECOND TIME THIS WEEK — after I moved it back to its home *again*. Please help.

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“Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to give this book to my mother. To present it to her as a precious gift over a meal that I’ve cooked for her. To say: Here is everything that keeps us from really talking. Here is my heart. Here are my words. I wrote this for you.” – Michele Filgate, Introduction, What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence

I just devoured this essay collection curated by the wonderful  Michele Filgate (whose title-essay about her mother’s refusal to believe her about childhood sexual assault at the hands of her stepfather is in the book) and it’s really good. There are love and appreciation stories aplenty, though many essays cover seriously harrowing ground around mental illness, addiction, emotional abuse, and other kinds of abuse without holding back. It’s not a light read, is what I am saying.

I feel like almost every piece in the book maps to a letter that someone has sent to my inbox about how to say the unsayable thing, how to know when it’s time to let go, how to tell your own truth, how to dig into the past without letting it define you, how to set boundaries, how to see a parent as a separate person who existed before you, how to honor the gifts our mothers give us and be honest about the poisoned apples they sometimes pass on. I kept highlighting as I went because I knew that some Letter Writer somewhere needed to see that sentence, see themselves on that page. “Mother Tongue,” Carmen Maria Machado‘s chapter about estrangement is one of the best things about that topic I’ve read. Some quotes from that essay:

“Whenever I saw her, she found some way to let me know that despite my accomplishments, I was failing. ‘You need to learn to make better choices,’ she told me, though what choices they were, she never specified. Besides, all I could hear was, ‘I wish I’d made better choices.’ And I couldn’t help her with that.”

“A reader might think that this is, obviously, a kind of misplaced parental anxiety and love. And they might be right. But I felt like I was losing my mind. There was no trust, no affection, no listening, just ignorant micromanagement. It felt like I was existing in a parallel universe, where everything I’d just done with my life, everything I was doing with my life, hadn’t made any difference at all. I was a kid again, useless. Nothing was mine–not my time, not my schedule, not my choices.”

I’ll stop before I accidentally re-publish the whole thing. If you spent Mother’s Day curled up in a ball because of a difficult relationship and/or if you have a letter hanging out in my queue about this topic, this might be a healing book for you. ❤

I’m working on a book proposal for a collection of essays, so I’m on a tear of reading essay collections of late. Here are some other collections I couldn’t put down:

  • Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which is an essay collection about race and politics and identity in America AND a memoir about family and love and being from a particular place in the Midwest AND a chronicle of how the music we love carries our dreams and tells our stories, how the music brings us back to particular moment in time, how it helps us remember and see. It’s a fucking stunner.
  • Alexander Chee’s How To Write An Autobiographical Novel which is, among many other things, such a love letter to the teachers who taught him to write. Chee has an essay in the What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About collection as well.
  • JoAnn Beard’s The Boys Of My Youth (I discovered her work through the outstanding 1996 essay The Fourth State of Matter which, if you are unfamiliar, could use a content note for everything from “school shooting/gun violence” to “dying pet” but it’s one of those pieces that says EVERYTHING and never lets go).

No comments, as I don’t really like debating about the books I read in my free time, I like what I like and you like what you like, but since people always want to know what I’m reading, here’s some of what I’m reading. I hope you’re reading things that speak to you!

Finally, I just got an advance copy of Jessica Pan’s “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come: One Introvert’s Year Of Saying Yes” in the mail, I’ll update here when I’m done since I think “What would happen if a shy introvert lived like a gregarious extrovert for one year?” is a question that lots of us might like to see answered, if only vicariously and from a very safe distance.